The 300 teenagers who slept outside in cardboard boxes last Friday had expected to gain firsthand experience of the struggles of homeless youth.
They got that experience, and then some, bundled up in appliance boxes after 7 inches of snow buried Minneapolis.
“They said we should come rain or shine, but nobody said anything about snow,” joked Johanna Keller-Flores, a 17-year-old from St. Joan of Arc Church in Minneapolis.
The teens, from 25 religious youth groups across the Twin Cities, were part of the annual sleep-out sponsored by Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, a nonprofit formerly known as Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation.
Students raised $25,000 for the nonprofit’s teen housing programs through the snow-covered event and other fundraising activities, said Kris Berggren, spokeswoman for the nonprofit.
The teens at St. Joan of Arc, for example, held a talent show and collected donations for the housing, she said.
While a few previous sleep-outs have been plagued by rain, the snow came as a huge surprise to the students nestled into the cardboard city in the parking lot of Plymouth Congregational Church. Even with multiple layers of clothing and a sleeping bag, Keller-Flores said she spent the night “waiting for the morning.”
The evening, fortunately, featured some indoor time.
Students attended presentations about teen homelessness and met with outreach workers who help homeless teens find shelter, including some who were once homeless themselves.
The teens also contacted their state legislators, asking them to approve funding for the Homeless Youth Act.
Keller-Flores said she learned a lot, in particular how widespread homelessness is and how the sex trafficking of teens is a growing problem. About 2,500 youth are homeless every night in Minnesota.
Would Keller-Flores sign up again?
“Yes,” she answered quickly. “It was definitely worth it.”